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Reimagining Lima

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How drones, community mapping and 3D printers were used to influence local and national policy for the urban poor in Lima, Peru.

Reimagining Lima

3D image of the point cloud generated by the drone flights in Lima’s peripheral settlements (2014).

Credit: ReMapLima, UCL DPU / CASA

In 2012, Development Planning Unit (DPU) Professor Adriana Allen and Dr Rita Lambert forged links with a group of NGOs and grassroots organisations – namely Foro Ciudades Para La vida, CENCA and CIDAP – in Lima, Peru. These relationships were built under the Learning Alliance programme, set up for the DPU’s Master’s in Environment and Sustainable Development.

The Learning Alliance brings together students, academics and researchers to work with marginalised communities from the Global South – communities that are often invisible to authorities and disproportionately exposed to everyday risks, with severe impacts on their lives, homes and incomes.

In 2013, Allen and Lambert were awarded The Bartlett Materialisation Grant in association with Andy Hudson-Smith, then Director of The Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA). The £50,000 grant, which must be supplemented by sponsorship, is awarded annually to projects that blend two or more disciplines to generate new forms, awarenesses or tools.

Reimagining Lima

Three community mappers holding the drone that captured the point clouds and aerial images of their settlements on the peripheral slopes of José Carlos Mariátegui (2014).

Credit: Rita Lambert

Virtually reconstructing Lima

By using drones, 3D modelling and open-source mapping technologies, the team – together with local communities in Lima – co-produced quantitative and qualitative spatialised data, making sure it was visualised and communicated in an accessible manner so that it could contribute to evidence-based tools for discussion at policy level.

With the support of a Swiss drone manufacturer, two experts joined the team in Lima to produce the original area surveys for two neighbourhoods in Lima: José Carlos Mariátegui on the periphery of the city and Barrios Altos in the centre. Images were taken from a generic camera placed on an Ebee (a fixed-winged drone). This captured overlapping photos and created high-resolution point clouds to then inform a near real-time model of each neighbourhood.

These were sent to London where they were translated into 3D-printed models and 3D-digital models. Silvia de los Ríos, from the partner NGO CIDAP, has said that, for the local people, the result is “like having the urban block in their hands”. Alongside the mapping from the sky, mapping from the ground, with the help of people living in the neighbourhoods, enabled the collection of important variables, such as geo-referenced household surveys to help identify who is at risk – where, how and why – and also the coping capacity of inhabitants.

Reimagining Lima

Community mappers using surveys on mobile phones to capture the various risks they face in Barrios Altos (2014).

Credit: Rita Lambert

Change on the ground

The digital model has become a platform for recording new layers of information and activity, disseminated via an accompanying website, cLimasinRiesgo.net, and has laid the foundations for a transformative communication legacy, along with events and exhibitions.

The project funded by The Bartlett Materialisation Grant proved so useful that further funds were secured through the Climate Development Knowledge Network. The insights yielded so far have been influential on national and local policy for housing and services, as well as enriching the Lima authorities’ understanding of how these communities mitigate and cope with everyday risks.

“It was crucial to quantify the considerable income, time and labour that the urban poor spend on improving collective accessibility and services, and ameliorating housing conditions,” says Lambert. “This has provided a counter argument to the often-heard assumption that the poor are a problem for the city, and rather highlighted their resilience and the need to support such efforts through coordinated public investments.”

In reality, inhabitants of the settlements in José Carlos Mariátegui, for example, are virtually self-reliant. The project cLIMA sin Riesgo found that they contribute on average 87% of the total cost to make their neighbourhood habitable, while the State provides a mere 8.3%.

Allen says: “There has been a huge change in perception. At the beginning of the process, the tenants and settlers with whom we worked were commonly depicted as undeserving. We have been able to help show the huge investment the urban poor put into the city – and the urban poor represent 60% of the city of Lima. This has found traction in a number of policy-making organisations, including the Ministry of Culture.”

The project team was composed of Adriana Allen, Rita Lambert and Monica Bernal from DPU-UCL; Andy Hudson-Smith and Flora Roumpani from CASA; Liliana Miranda from Foro Ciudades Para La Vida; Silvia de los Rios from CIDAP; Carlos Escalante from CENCA; Alexandre Habersaat and Emanuele Lubrano from Drone Adventures; and community mappers from Barrios Altos and José Carlos Mariátegui.

Find out more:

The Development Planning Unit is a world-leading research and postgraduate teaching unit that helps to build the capacity of national governments, local authorities, NGOs, aid agencies and businesses working towards socially-just and sustainable development in the Global South. It is part of The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment. Find out more: https://ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/development

The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis is an interdisciplinary research institute focusing on the science of cities, applying it to city planning, policy and architecture in the pursuit of making our cities better places to live in. It is part of The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment. Find out more: https://ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/casa

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